Press conference

Denton County Judge Andy Eads, right, speaks to the media during a press conference Friday at the Courthouse on the Square. The county saw the highest jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases so far on Friday, with 54 new test results coming back positive.

Officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission have announced additional steps to protect residents and staff of the Denton State Supported Living Center amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with a total of 39 documented cases now emanating from that facility as of Friday afternoon.

In addition, two staff members have now tested positive for the virus.

Friday saw the highest jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Denton County, with 54 new cases. The county’s total now sits at 137.

State health officials announced that they are stationing emergency medical resources on the state supported living center’s 189-acre campus and coordinating with multiple hospitals in the region to accept residents who may require hospitalization for COVID-19.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said officials were working around the clock to mitigate the spread of the virus at the center, where residents and staff are vulnerable.

“We have stepped up testing and are bringing in additional resources from the state to ease the strain on our local hospitals,” Nelson said in an email. “I urge the public to follow local, state and federal orders relating to this crisis.”

“We want everyone to stay safe!” she added.

Denton Mayor Chris Watts said during a news conference Friday that the commission will station four EMT units outside the facility for those who need transportation to a hospital. They’ll be transported to hospitals across the county depending on bed availability.

On-site care will be provided for residents who don’t need to be hospitalized, Watts said.

“Everybody’s worked so diligently to make sure that the residents out at that living center have the best medical center given their unique needs,” Watts said.

Denton County Judge Andy Eads said this is a better model than actually setting up a hospital facility at the center at this time. Earlier in the week, local officials had requested that the state consider setting up a temporary hospital on the campus.

Denton County Public Health officials are continuing to coordinate additional testing of people who may have been exposed at the center. More than 400 individuals with developmental disabilities live at the center, cared for by more than 1,000 employees.

About 140 high-risk residents at the living center were tested Wednesday, with more tests administered Friday, Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson said. The second wave of testing focused on next-tier residents and staff who are asymptomatic.

“We tried to find those most at risk because of respiratory chronic infections or the medical fragility that [staff] identified,” Richardson said, regarding who was considered high-risk. “We’re trying to assess exposure and risk with limited supplies.”

Among the new cases in Denton is a University of North Texas student who traveled to New Orleans for spring break before returning to Denton. According to a notice sent by the university, the student lives in an apartment in Denton and has been isolated since being evaluated and tested for COVID-19.

County public health officials announced the latest case count in a news press conference late Friday afternoon. One death was attributed to the virus this week.

Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe contributed to this story.

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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